It is in the nature of music biographies to eulogise the events of recent history, to treat their subjects as saints predestined for greatness.
So it is a curious thing that perhaps the year's most intriguing book takes a rather dim view of nostalgia, looking gimlet-eyed at the past and declaring it bad - at least as an influence on the present.
Simon Reynolds's Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past (Faber) poses a couple of timely questions. What if our obsession with music of yesteryear, of the fad for "retro", reunion tours and reissue culture, is actually slowing up cultural innovation? And, more provocatively still: "What happens when we run out of past?"
For Reynolds to pose this question is, he accepts, a little rich: after all, his 2005 book Rip It Up and Start Again, documenting the post-punk bands of the 1970s and 1980s era, could be cited as a contributory factor.
Still, Retromania confirms Reynolds as one of our best pop-music thinkers. His command of detail is scholarly - watch as he flips deftly between the Italian Futurists, the iPod Nano, Baudrillard and the Bootleg Beatles - and his writing sparkles; so much so, it's easy just to untether your critical faculties and be swept along.
Perhaps the premise itself is a little fogeyish - one suspects the future will come, whether a fortysomething music critic recognises it or not - but all the same, Retromania is a pleasure from beginning to end.
The music memoir runs as smoothly as a flowchart: young man or woman undergoes a musical epiphany; learns how to play the chords in the right order; serendipitous meeting with musical collaborators; fame and ascent to the rock 'n' roll pantheon (plus the occasional fall from grace).
Still, a good memoir transcends its formula, and 2011 has seen a handful of greats. Nile Rodgers's Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny (Sphere) is the warmly told autobiography of the Chic guitarist, going from poverty and destitution in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen to disco stardom, producing for David Bowie, Michael Jackson and Madonna, and then a cautionary slide from hedonism into addiction.
In Iron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath (Simon & Schuster), Tony Iommi tells how he overcame a serious hand injury - losing two fingers from his right hand in an industrial accident in a Birmingham factory - to invent the guitar riffs that would come to characterise heavy metal.
Shaun Ryder's Twisting My Melon (Bantam Press) is every bit as lurid as one might expect. In the acknowledgements section, the Happy Mondays frontman thanks "all those who have taken time to help me remember the parts of my life that were a bit hazy".
Still, the stories within do not scrimp on detail: Ryder's triggering of Manchester's acid house awakening through the judicious distribution of MDMA among clubbers at the nightspot The Hacienda; being held up at gunpoint in the New York ghetto; and pulling his own shooter on a journalist from the Manchester Evening News (although he insists it was only "a little plastic starting pistol … I just starting having a bit of a nobble with him, winding him up").
In many ways, Twisting My Melon is a cautionary tale, its highs balanced by lows, but Ryder, quite clearly, is not after your sympathy.
Two lavish photo books are worthy of investigation. George Harrison: Living in the Material World (Abrams) is a 400-page collection of photographs, diaries and letters, pieced together by Harrison's widow Olivia, along with recollections from Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton.
Lady Gaga X Terry Richardson (Hodder & Stoughton) matches up the pre-eminent pop star with the punk photographer, resulting in a heavyweight tome of largely casual, behind-the-scenes shots quite remote from Gaga's styled, high-concept stage persona.
It would be misleading to posit that Dorian Lynskey's 33 Revolutions per Minute (Faber) defined 2011, but in a year in which uprisings and revolution again swept the globe, its theme - a history of protest song, from the 1930s to well into this century - feels both timely and pertinent.
Perceptive, and with a keen eye for social context, Lynskey has a way of decoding a song that sheds light on the age that spawned it. Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit is not anything so straightforward as a civil rights anthem, but something raw and painful - a song that left a mark on its singer, just as surely as her skin colour marked her out in a country where black men and women could be routinely lynched.
He is aware of the occasional preposterousness of the protest song, admiring of what he identifies as the Clash's "do-or-die ambition to connect with an audience", even as he concedes their politics could be "gauche and clumsy". A final chapter, on Green Day's American Idiot, looks outward to consider the paucity of good songs written about the George W Bush administration. Perhaps in an age of social media, a song seems like a quaint or preachy way of transmitting a message.
Still, 33 Revolutions per Minute is a reminder that history isn't just a place for the nostalgic to wallow, but that the future has yet to be written, and that everything is up for grabs.